Today it seems that there are so many yoga cults around that before you commit to a yoga class, it makes sense to investigate the group and the leader. But how is it that something so seemingly simple as yoga can be used by unscrupulous psychopaths to create sects?
In the documentary "Gods of the New Age" from 1984, various people express their concerns that yoga was actually a means of deceiving people into accepting the ideas of Hinduism. Yoga was being sold to relieve stress, offering personal integrity, freedom, the ability to reach your potential and even as an alternative to the narrow Christian way of thinking.
Western people who went to the East to learn to be yoga teachers were given instructions that they should teach the yoga philosophy at the same time as the physical exercises. This is important for three reasons.
Firstly, the philosophy is actually based on Hinduism. The yoga teachers were spreading the ideas of Hinduism, often without even realizing it themselves. Secondly, this particular aspect was typically spoken about at the end of a session, when people were lying relaxed after a guided meditation.
That is to say, when they were in a hypnotic trance. This means they are in a suggestive state and not thinking particularly critically or logically. They get it whether they want it or not! Thirdly, people got used to the idea of listening to new ideas when they went for an exercise class.
This third aspect means that an unscrupulous group leader can simply begin to introduce his own ideas and doctrine and not necessarily that of yoga. Instant yoga cults!
So how do you know which are the yoga cults?
If everybody is walking around in saffron colored robes and shaved heads, they have sold their houses to live together in this commune, they adore the teacher more than the yoga and every single person you meet tells you that you are fantastic and you will really benefit from this group, then it's pretty obvious.
Unfortunately, most destructive groups nowadays are not like this. They are more sophisticated, with people living apparently normal lives, but usually paying lots of money to the group or leader for various courses.
What makes a group a destructive group is the presence of authoritarian leadership, deception and mind control.
Is the group teacher leader the only one who makes decisions? Are they answerable to anyone? Do they actually have the titles they claim to have? Do they tolerate criticism or allow questions in class? What kind of relationship do they have with the people around them? What do they call themselves? Master? Guru? Has he created his own form of yoga?
Is the group offering exactly what they say? Are the actions and words of the leader and the members congruent? Or are they saying one thing and doing another? For example, is the leader talking about living a simple life but spending a lot of money? Did people originally go along for a 1 or 2 hour yoga session once a week and are now spending five days a week in the place?
Mind control is evidenced by the fact that everybody in the group thinks the same as the leader. Whatever he or she says, goes. People are doing more and more things for the group instead of following their own interests. They may be working for free for the group. There is more adoration of the leader than of yoga itself.
Destructive yoga cults have the same two aims as any destructive group, recruiting members and making money. Of course many normal yoga teachers would like to have more members and a bit more money. But if you think it's excessive, be very careful.
With the attention on the body and the fact that yoga classes are often hands on, sexual abuse is common in yoga cults.
To have sex with the leader is said to be an honor. Or a way to change a person's energy vibrations. Or the only way to progress spiritually. Or helping the leader in some way. Or divine meditation. Or necessary to awaken kundalini, etc, etc.
Remember, when there is mind control involved, any sexual relationship is never between equals because of the imbalance of power. Nor is the victim making informed decisions because of the deception. This qualifies it as sexual abuse. If you know that any of the members are sexually involved with the leader, you should be seeing warning lights and hearing alarm bells!
One of the most important signals, and one that is frequently overridden, is your own instincts. What is your sense of the group? How did you feel when you first met the leader?
When people first meet a psychopath (many yoga cults are led by a psychopath) there is often revulsion. However, because this person has been recommended by friends, you give them the benefit of the doubt. This is something you can never afford to do with a psychopath!
Did you go along for some stretching and now you find that you are taking advice from the leader on your diet, your attitudes, your values in life, your relationships, your job, your children?
Are you spending more and more money on more and more courses?
If you're still not sure, take your time. Don't be pushed into joining the group by people who are already members.
If you feel uncomfortable, don't join, or leave. Find another group. It's your life, your body, and your money. Don't waste them in yoga cults.
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If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.
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